Ditko, Master of B&W and Color

Written: 14 May, 1999

I've read positive reviews of Marvel's Essential Spider-Man series; people seemed to feel that Ditko's art was enhanced more by appearing in B&W than Kirby's work was. Some people even preferred Ditko in B&W. Ditko used a lot of shadows in his art, making it atmospheric. On the other hand, as the Comics Journal recently said, the original 12-cent comics capture the carnival aspect more. Do you think Ditko's Spidey looks better in B&W or color?

Dr. Strange would seem to benefit from color. I recently read a review of the Marvel Masterworks Edition that cited the coloring as being an important part of what made the comic so visually entertaining. Ditko showed us weird abstract dimensions which anticipated the style of the colorful psychedelic era.

Other Ditko creations like The Creeper and Shade the Changing Man seem made for color. In fact, I understand that Ditko was involved in creating guides for the colorist on Shade (as I think he later did for the covers of Ditko's World in the mid-1980s).

Apparently color is important to Ditko, although unfortunately much of his independent work has been denied color. In many cases, however, this lack of color has been turned to enormous advantage by Ditko, such as the use of black & white in comics like Mr. A. The philosophy of Mr. A. that there is no gray is reflected in the comic format itself!

However, might color have improved any Ditko B&W comics? Static began in color (in both Eclipse Monthly and Charlton Action), and perhaps the B&W appearences of the hero lack the visual punch that his color appearances offered. Shag, a hero similar to the colorful Creeper, has only appeared in B&W (aside from covers) and perhaps color would have made the Shag comics visually more interesting.

Not only is Ditko a master of B&W and color, but gray wash as well, given the statements made concerning his Warren work (which, alas, I've still not read).

When ACG/Avalon reprinted a 1970s Ditko war short story in one of their B&W reprint comics last year, I was struck by the power of Ditko's B&W art with its heavy use of black shadows. No gray here -- just simple and wonderful black and white. The lines were clear and dark, unlike the fading feathery lines of some of the other artists in the comic. It was almost as though the art were made for B&W, as if this were a lost piece from The 160-Page Package rather than a story which had originally appeared in a color comic.

Ditko had no way of knowing that some of his work (like Spidey or the war story above) would ever be seen in B&W. How remarkable that his work would be equally impressive in formats he would not forsee or intend for. This leads me to believe that Ditko's art will have continued appeal into the far future, in formats yet unimagined.